Before and After: A 1924 Sears Kit Living Room Gets a Respectful Redo Full of Charm

published Apr 18, 2023
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About this before & after
Living room before renovation: blue accent walls, white ceiling with exposed beams, no furnishings

Once upon a time, before Zillow, Redfin, and astronomical interest rates, you could buy homes from catalogs. From 1908 to 1942, the Sears Roebuck company sold more than 70,000 homes-in-a-box; these kits included all the necessary materials to build a home, and were shipped via railroad boxcar to a homeowner’s location anywhere in North America. There, they were assembled on site by the homeowner or their hired hands — think of it as a really, really complicated IKEA project. 

Sears, which was a retail giant during that time period, sourced building materials in bulk, and the pre-cut lumber saved on construction time, so these kit houses were often cheaper than other construction methods. Today, very few of the kit-built homes still stand, but of those that do, one of them belongs to Adaena and Chris Tray.

The 1924 home still has many original features intact, Adaena explains, including the built-in window seat in the living room, the alcoves, trimwork, coffered wood ceiling, archway, and hardwood floors. When Adaena and Chris first moved in, they “arrived at this house with very little furniture, and most of it was diminutive in scale,” Adaena says. “We only had three old chairs, a white slipcovered sofa, a cabinet, and a little coffee table.”

Their pieces didn’t match the grandeur of the room they were working with (technically the kit’s living room and what the Sears catalog labeled a “solarium”). “At some point, the colonnades dividing the two spaces were removed, making it one very large multi-use room,” Adaena explains. “I love the historic charm, the openness, and the abundance of natural light that pours in through the many windows. I did not particularly care for the original cooler color palette of the accent walls, which included a steely blue and a baby blue.” 

For a while, Adaena tried to live with the blue, but her main home advice is not to force anything you don’t love. “I lived with the cold hue for years and, of course, painting over it only took me a day, start to finish,” she says. To make the home suit her style while still “honoring the age and history of the home,” as Adaena says, she and Chris worked with a color consultant, Erin Cavanaugh of Gillie Cavan, to choose a warmer, more neutral tan (Valspar’s Luxury Linen) for the overall space and green (Sherwin-Williams’ Oakmoss) for the accent wall.

“The gallery wall is everyone’s favorite feature of the room,” Adaena says, adding that she initially had different plans for her thrift store-sourced frames. “I originally was hanging the photos on the wall facing the steps. One a whim, I thought maybe I’d have a few frames wrap around the corner onto the windowed wall. Then one thing led to another, and pretty soon I had covered the entire surface, floor to ceiling, with photos of our families.”

The old photographs add a personal touch while in keeping with the home’s historic feel, which can be said of the entire redo. “The biggest ‘DIY’ in this space was replacing and adding to the furniture and accessories,” Adaena says. “I was very mindful of the pieces I sourced. I wanted to bring in lots of wood tones, antiques, and unique items that would reflect our personality. The room started with the deep red hand-knotted Turkmen rug that I splurged on for my 40th birthday. Such a statement piece set the tone for a collected and comfortable ‘lived-in’ space.”

In addition, Adaena refinished the staircase railing and newel post. “This was my first time stripping paint, sanding and restaining in place,” she says. “It’s so much easier to refinish when the object can be moved to the basement. My one cat stepped in the stain and got his paw prints all over the place! In the end though, I’m really happy with how it turned out. I like that there is a section that shows the age and patina of the home’s wood.”

Adaena also restored and replaced trim where it was missing from the windows, had the front door replaced with something more fitting for the home’s 1924 time period, and swapped out the modern light fixtures for antiques similar to what would have originally come with the home. “The room took three and a half years to complete as time and funds allowed,” Adaena says. “It was a slow process with many, many iterations.”

Adaena’s advice for working with a historic home, or even a modern home inhabited by history lovers, is to shop secondhand. Adaena found her designer plaid chair in the corner on Facebook Marketplace for $200, and she bought her claw-foot pedestal table in the solarium from a thrift store for $75 and refinished it for under $20. She mixed in Wayfair, Etsy, and Anthropologie outlet finds, plus a couple splurge pieces like a commissioned bookshelf and Poly and Bark chairs. 

“I love to collect and curate items from different time periods,” Adaena says. “It’s more interesting, timeless, and layered.”

Adaena also says she thinks every room should have some element of whimsy. Her two touches of whimsy: the hot air balloons and an old wicker market wagon from the Anthropologie Home Outlet where she and Chris store shoes, aka the “Sole Train.”

Adaena says the living room is now a true reflection of her and Chris, their two dogs, and three cats. “Considering we started with almost no furniture or accessories, having a room chock full of meaningful and useful pieces is both aesthetically pleasing and functional,” she says. “It’s a great room for entertaining in. My nieces and nephew love piling onto the window seat. Many crafts, puzzles, and heart-to-hearts have happened over the table and chairs. My husband blissed out watching TV during March Madness. The pets huddle around the fireplace on cold nights. It’s a warm, happy family home that feels like a hug.”

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